British PM on terror threat: Let's blame Facebook, not our police cuts

Opinion: Deflecting police force budget cuts by blaming social media serves no-one.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer on
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Faced with increased pressure from the UK government to prevent terrorist activities online, Facebook has pledged changes which will make the social media platform a "hostile environment" for extremists.

At least seven people were killed in the latest London attack, which the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) took responsibility for. Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the latest attack, saying it was "time to say enough is enough."

The British PM has demanded not only tighter regulation of the Internet in response but has also said that tech giants -- including social media networks -- need to step up and take more responsibility as providers of spaces where extremism and indoctrination can occur, as reported by Reuters.

On Sunday, Facebook condemned the attacks.

In an emailed statement, Simon Milner, director of policy at Facebook said the social network wants to "be a hostile environment for terrorists."

"Using a combination of technology and human review, we work aggressively to remove terrorist content from our platform as soon as we become aware of it -- and if we become aware of an emergency involving imminent harm to someone's safety, we notify law enforcement," he said.

Twitter has also said that terrorism has "no place" on the microblogging platform. The company confirmed that nearly 400,000 accounts linked to such activities had been suspended in the second-half of 2016.

But technology giants, internet providers, and online services are now in a precarious position.

The internet is -- or at least, used to be -- seen as an open space to access information, speak your mind, and create innovative new business ventures. And yet trolling, government surveillance, censorship, cyberattackers and other threats have prompted governments worldwide to attempt to wrestle control of what their citizens can and cannot do, see, and say.

Last month, the British PM pledged an industry-wide levy on tech giants to police the Internet and, should the Conservatives win the upcoming election, she wishes to make the UK government "the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet."

In other words, the UK government is attempting to regulate the web and what citizens can post, share, and publish.

Hours after the latest London attack, May repeated her pledge, arguing that tougher regulations will make the job of intelligence officers and law enforcement easier by removing every "means of communication" that they "cannot read."

What can social media networks do?

Social networks can close down accounts reported for extremist ideologies, Islamic State sympathizers, and recruiters for the terrorist group.

Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter pledged in December to create a database of terrorist-related images and videos which will help moderators clamp down and remove such content quickly.

Short of shutting down extremist accounts, pages, and groups, the UK government wants to be able to monitor, control, and read content. However, without removing end-to-end encryption and giving law enforcement access to all communication on the platform -- a measure which would likely destroy user trust -- the fine line between censorship, surveillance, and user freedom is a difficult one to draw.

More moderators, additional training and encouraging the social media community at large to recognize and close down public terrorist-related content could also improve the situation.

However, you cannot help but connect the dots with the upcoming election on Thursday.

Distasteful as it may be, politicians are known for leveraging tragedies and scandals to further their own ends, and some may argue that the British PM is doing just that.

But is the internet actually involved, anyway?

No evidence has been released which shows the Internet is involved in any way with the London attack.

It may be that the three jihadists involved used social media to plot their attack, or they may have used physical meetings and burner phones to conduct their activities.

If you place responsibility solely on the shoulders of tech vendors such as Facebook and Twitter, it could be that the UK government will have its wish to erode personal privacy and protection by pushing the case towards the removal of end-to-end encryption and other means to disguise your activities and communication online.

Tech vendors have pushed against such demands in the name of overall personal security and the involvement of these names is deflecting one of the true issues: the deep cuts the UK has experienced leading to 20,000 fewer police officers and at least 1,000 armed police officers culled from the force.

In 2015, May accused the police force of "crying wolf" and "scaremongering" over the cuts, more of which are due to take place in coming years.

"I have to tell you that this kind of scaremongering does nobody any good -- it doesn't serve you, it doesn't serve the officers you represent, and it doesn't serve the public," May told representatives at the time.

And yet no matter what Facebook, Twitter, and other companies do -- short of opening their platforms entirely to law enforcement -- it will not be enough for the British PM.

If you think about the unarmed officer who took on three attackers at London Bridge with no more than a baton and sustained serious injuries as a result, perhaps it is time to tell it like it is.

No matter what your political affiliation, Corbyn told May that you can't protect the public on the cheap, and whoever ends up in power next needs to keep this in mind.

You cannot protect anyone with no-one on the streets, and you also cannot protect the public by pushing the blame on other parties to further a surveillance-bent agenda while understaffed and under-resourced law enforcement takes on terrorists with little to hand.

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